"Patriot" Profiles #1: Joe Holland, Calvin Greenup, and the Anti-Tax Militia
Copyright 1996 by Mark Pitcavage
Last Modified March 28, 1996
Introduction: Too many people have heard only scattered reports about the neo-militia movement. A news-bite here and a sound clip there do not serve to give a real portrait of the activities of the movement; what are needed are longer, more in-depth portraits of some of the self-described "patriots" who head the varied groups and associations that form the fringe right. While most of the media attention has been given to militia leaders such as Mark Koernke, Norm Olson, Linda Thompson, and the like, this first Patriot Profile focuses on a pair of lesser known militia leaders, whose story is no less interesting for all of its relative obscurity.
Joe Holland and Calvin Greenup
"I don't have to engage in a freedom fight," Indiana militia leader Joe Holland said of his criminal trial for criminal syndicalism and jury tampering in Montana, "except that's what I choose to do." But the freedom that Joe Holland and his Montana associate Calvin Greenup seemed to be fighting for was the freedom not to pay taxes. The pair were separated by the better part of a continent, but united in their opposition to government, particularly the federal government, and most of all to the Internal Revenue Service. These radical anti-tax protesters represent an important segment of the modern day neo-militia movement.
Joe Holland, a 54 year old resident of Booneville, Indiana, moved to that state in 1981, where he operated a pig farm. Here he also began to subscribe to the ideas of the radical anti-tax protest groups such as Posse Comitatus, which flourished in the 1980s. Holland stopped paying taxes on his farm, which the IRS eventually seized and sold to pay for the back taxes that Holland owed. It was this event, Holland later claimed, that inspired him actively to join the so-called patriot movement. He founded several organizations, including the Freedom Council, the Bill of Rights Enforcement Center, and most recently, the "North American Volunteer Militia," which like many militia organizations was grander in title than reality.
But for Holland, patriotism meant continuing to avoid taxes. Holland became involved with the wide variety of tax avoidance schemes propagated by people like "We the People" leader Roy Schwasinger. Holland's Freedom Council sold "small business manuals" which consisted of advice on tax evasion. It also offered for a fee to help people file "recissions" with the federal government, in which they renounce attachment to Social Security numbers. The Council also claimed to be able to help stop foreclosures or the withholding of income or Social Security taxes. "If people did their research," Holland said, "they would learn that the income tax is not a tax on income at all. It is actually a tax on privileged business activity." Holland did more than just advocate this belief; he lived it. "I am not a tax protester," he told an Indianapolis reporter, "because I don't owe any taxes. And I don't owe any tax because I don't have any income."
Among the scams that Holland involved himself in was one widely promoted by anti-tax groups such as We the People, Family Farm Preservation, and LeRoy Schweitzer: the fake money order. Arguing that the federal reserve was a fraud and that paper money was worthless (along with bank loans), the money order scammers claimed that their money orders (backed either by nothing at all or a frivolous lien placed upon the federal government or some other organization or individual) were equally valid. The money orders were sold to customers both suspecting and unsuspecting for amounts that ranged up to $500, but customers could write in any amount on the money order itself. One typical use of such money orders was to fill out the amount with a figure twice the sum owed to a person or organization, then ask for an immediate refund of the "overpayment." If the person receiving the money order suspected nothing and wrote out a check for the "overpayment," he or she would be very unhappily surprised when the bank refused to deposit the money order. Joe Holland, who regularly sold such money orders, claimed that they were a method of protest rather than a scam. "Congress has sold you out," he claimed. "They have given up their authority to produce your money. The money order brings the issue to the forefront."
What other schemes Holland may have been involved with remain unclear. In May 1995, four men were convicted in Michigan on charges of obtaining money under false pretenses, securities fraud and conspiracy. These men, which included Mervin Hague, a close friend of Holland's, operated a scam which involved telling victims that there had been a class-action lawsuit filed in Colorado and that for a $300 filing fee, the victims could become plaintiffs and receive millions of dollars, since the case had been settled. The scammers bilked people of approximately $1.2 million before being caught. Michigan prosecutor John Livesay described Holland as the group's "spiritual leader," though Holland himself was not charged with any crimes. Officials in Iowa worked to stop Hague's group, We the People, from doing the same thing there. But Holland was not above working scams of his own. In the early 1990s, Holland convinced several investors to put their money into Kentucky oil wells that were not actually producing. The investors successfully sued Holland and won $450,000. Coincidentally, only two days later Holland filed for bankruptcy, listing liabilities roughly equal to the amount awarded in the lawsuit. The court ruled that Holland had attempted to transfer property in an effort to get around his creditors. Holland himself claimed he lost the lawsuit only because the court had changed the trial date suddenly, so that he couldn't show up to defend himself. However, the trial date had been set 11 months in advance.
Joe Holland found a partner in politics--and crime--in 53 year-old Calvin Greenup. Greenup was a bearded, fourth-generation Montanan who had little liking for the federal government. It is not exactly clear how the two met, though it might have been through LeRoy Schweitzer, the radical anti-tax protestor who lived in eastern Montana. Greenup lived in the logging town of Darby, Montana, in Ravalli County, where he operated a dump and a wild game farm (Greenup owned about a dozen domesticated elk). Like Holland, Greenup became radicalized by a losing confrontation with the government. In 1991 Greenup lost an extended legal battle with Montana environmental regulators over the closing of the garbage dump that he and his father owned. He also refused to pay his taxes or to register his vehicle or renew his driver's license; he had renounced all ties to government. "My dad taught me how to use a gun to defend myself against predators," he told reporters in May 1995. "Now that I'm 52 years old, I find the predators are the government." Greenup agreed to be the Montana coordinator for Holland's North American Volunteer Militia, and eventually gathered about two dozen like-minded Montanans into their fold.
The partnership between Holland and Greenup, however appropriate in terms of politics, was a match of two unstable personalities whose radical beliefs reinforced each other and threatened to bring them to the brink of dangerous activity. Aggravating the situation was the fact that state and federal authorities seemed to be closing in on the pair for their failure to pay taxes, make bank payments, or comply with the laws. In October 1994, two dozen IRS, Treasury and Secret Service agents converged on Joe Holland's residence to seize his records. In Montana, state revenue and wildlife officials threatened to take Greenup's property away because he owed $9,500 in taxes and penalties but refused to pay.
In desperation, Holland and Greenup turned to their radical politics to save them. They already had visions of apocalypse, Holland telling a British reporter in late 1994 that "We're looking at a full-scale civil war here. The people of this country are sick and tired of being raped and pillaged by the bunch of thieves that run the federal government." They began a campaign to get the government to back off, sending out letters and faxes and calling for support on computer bulletin boards. In December, Holland made a serious mistake, writing a letter to the Montana Revenue Department in which he bragged of being the leader of the nation's largest militia, capable of mobilizing a million people, and asked "How many of your agents will be sent home in body bags before you hear the pleas of the people? Proceed at your own peril!"
These inflammatory messages merely alerted Montana officials to the possibility that Holland and Greenup were potentially dangerous. And as the long Montana winter came to a close, events there and in Indiana moved towards a climax. Federal authorities began investigating Holland for bank fraud, bankruptcy fraud, securities fraud and tax evasion. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks agents confiscated Greenup's elk when he refused to pay a $25 license fee, while a local bank began foreclosure on his ranch. Greenup also found himself in trouble for harboring his son, Scott Greenup, who was wanted for assaulting an officer and for jumping bail. Greenup had already adopted a siege mentality, at one point in February 1995 calling out his militiamen to shoot down a National Guard helicopter that had flown over his property. He thought the helicopter signaled an operation against him, while in actuality the craft was only on a training mission.
Meanwhile, the efforts of Holland and Greenup to strike back against the authorities they believed were persecuting them continued. However, now the state was wide awake about the pair and their friends. Dennis Taylor, deputy director of the prosecution division of the Montana Justice Department, labeled them "goofy, but extremely stupid," noting how easy it was for undercover agents to infiltrate their activities. Holland and Greenup were calling for the establishment of vigilante "common law courts" that would try public officials for "treason," then hang or shoot them. Authorities became particularly worried in late March 1995, when Greenup--already charged with tax evasion but refusing to turn himself in--told a bail bondsman that a common law court had met and threatened to hang Ravalli District Judge Jeffrey Langton, and to shoot Sheriff Jay Printz, County Attorney George Corn, and deputy county attorney Mike Reardon. On April 8, Joe Holland sent out a "press release," asking militia members nationwide to assemble in Montana to protect Greenup. Two days later, a law enforcement officer, pretending to be a militia sympathizer, taped a phone call to Greenup in which the militia leader discussed getting armed help to arrest and try judges, attorneys and the sheriff. Authorities tried to apprehend Greenup on April 12, but with the help of several associates he escaped and holed himself up on his ranch, threatening that he would "rather die than go to jail."
Montana officials filed criminal charges against Greenup and Holland for "criminal syndicalism," a charge that meant advocating violence for political purposes, and filed lesser charges against two associates, but now they were in a dilemma. Joe Holland lived in Indiana and could be expected to fight extradition, while Greenup, though still at his ranch not far from county officials, was threatening to go down fighting the law. And state officials were now faced with a case of what many people termed "Weaver fever," referring to the 1992 standoff between white supremacist Randy Weaver and federal agents in Idaho, which resulted not only in the death of Weaver's wife and son, and that of a federal agent, but which also helped to spark the militia movement itself, a flame that was kindled by the similar standoff at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, the following year. Montana officials and law enforcement agents were now triply cautious, unwilling to make a martyr of any right-wing extremist, or risk the lives of law officers. Despite the fact that a number of fugitives from the law were holed up in Montana, daring authorities to come after them, and of which Greenup was only one, Montana officials balked. So did federal agents. "We want to avoid a confrontation, we don't want a shootout," explained Randy Little, the eastern Montana agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. And Calvin Greenup seemed eager to offer them one. "Deep down in, I know I'm going to die," Greenup said. "Yeah, there's going to be people die over this. I believe the government knows they got to get rid of me to do what they want to do."
But into the decision vacuum stepped Ravalli County Sheriff Jay Printz, who decided early that there would be no confrontation, but no let up of pressure, either. "The fact that people have backed off since Weaver has really emboldened some of these fugitives," he explained, "but I still intend to get my man. I just don't want to create a situation where I'm going to have to kill somebody." Printz's position was considerably strengthened by a strong show of support from the community, who published petitions signed by over 800 people in their local newspaper, as well as putting up posters of support in their windows at home. "We didn't want to turn it into being a haven for those people who do not choose to follow the law," said one. "You're responsible for evil if you don't stand up and do something to stop it, and so there was...really a community outpouring," said another.
With this support, Printz was able to withstand pressure from the media and state officials who pressed for rapid action and complained of "Weaver fever." Printz himself was no "jackbooted thug," but rather someone with a great deal of sympathy for Greenup and the other radicals. Printz was involved in a lawsuit against the federal government over the Brady Act and believed that the federal government was too intrusive in people's lives. But there was a difference between him and militia men like Holland and Greenup. Printz believed in paying attention to the laws. "We have too many darn politicians and not enough statesmen," he complained to ABC News reporter Cokie Roberts, "and we've got to get over this...idea that we can't criticize the government--government officials and law enforcement--because I think it's needed. But...there shouldn't be any of this rattling of firearms and telling people you're going to shoot them when they're trying to uphold the law. If you don't like the laws, there are ways to change them. You know, I'm involved in a lawsuit against the federal government on the Brady law currently as we speak, so I'm not afraid to challenge the government, but I'm also not going to back down or be intimidated by people that threaten to kill me." So Printz engaged Greenup and his sons in a waiting game. He continued to gather information, but avoided a direct confrontation.
Meanwhile, back in Indiana, Joe Holland made another mistake. Fighting extradition back to Montana, the militia leader on May 16, 1995, sent a mass mailing to the 12,000 registered voters of Ravalli County. Holland's letter attacked Judge Jeffery Langton, who was handling Holland's case and who ordered his extradition to Montana. Holland informed Ravalli residents that he had investigated Langton and found him guilty of judicial misconduct--but conveniently neglected to inform them that he was accused of inciting people to kill Langton and other officials. The ploy backfired, as not only did it raise an outcry against Holland in Ravalli County, but it constituted an act of jury tampering, as Holland had mailed letters to the entire jury pool of Ravalli County. In addition, one of the others against whom charges had been brought pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Holland. In late May, Holland finally agreed to be extradited to Montana, where he faced the possibility of up to 20 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
In Montana, Printz's strategy of waiting Greenup out finally paid dividends, as Greenup entered into negotiations for surrendering and finally on June 2 gave himself up to authorities and agreed to file overdue tax returns and to turn in all his firearms. Printz had good reason to be satisfied with having got his man, and without bloodshed.
What has happened since to Holland and Greenup? Greenup's fate remains to be determined, but Holland's has taken an interesting twist. Holland's trial began in early December, 1995, but came to a quick halt when Holland changed his plea to guilty. This was necessary because of Montana law in order for Holland to pursue his desired legal strategy of challenging the charges on First Amendment grounds. Ravalli County Attorney George Corn felt that Holland changed his plea because the evidence was strong enough against Holland that the militia leader had to challenge the constitutionality of the laws themselves. This was also the opinion of Jay Printz. "You get a hole in your boat," said the Sheriff, "you'd better decide whether you want to bail out and swim for it or ride the boat down."
Holland was a free man pending his appeal.